It's back to school time, which means, it's time to think about what's for lunch and snacks in between. I know the school year can be busy and there just doesn't seem to be time to prepare healthy lunches. That's where I'm here to help. I just had a kid's cooking class where we discussed how the kids can take ownership of their lunches and how they can fill their lunchboxes with healthy options.
Why is this important? Well, when you look into the nutrition information provided by many school websites you may be shocked. And, even if they have healthy options, I often hear from kids that they do not like the way it is cooked or the lack of seasoning. So guess what, they are not eating the nutritious foods anyways. However, providing a delicious and nutritious lunch just 1 or 2 days a week can go a long way to ensuring they have nutrients they need for a school day. Nutritious whole foods help kids focus better and longer, provide lasting energy and help prevent nasty colds even when everyone else is getting sick.
When you think about packing lunches, consider a collection of food groups:
4. Carbohydrates (whole grains, corn, potatoes, peas or winter squashes)
5. Snack item or an occasional small treat
Bento boxes: At my recent kid's cooking class, I had the kids decorate their bento boxes with stickers and their name so they get excited when they see their lunch and get curious about what's inside. I love bento boxes because they keep your foods separate (I know many picky eaters do not like their foods to touch) and allow you to add servings from all food groups in the same container in different portion sizes. This bento box is functional and durable. If you'd like a cheaper option, order these, they are reusable and affordable, especially if lost.
1. Avocado Chicken Salad with fruit and nuts: In a large bowl, added shredded cooked chicken, avocado, corn and season with cumin, salt and black pepper and chopped fresh cilantro. Click here if you need further instructions. Pair with a serving of fruit and a pack of nuts like these.
2. Savory Egg Muffins or Sweet Muffins with mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes (or any other vegetable) and berries (strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries). For gluten-free, just swap out the whole wheat flour for a gluten-free mixed flour. For dairy-free, enjoy hummus with veggies and berries.
3. Crunchy baked chicken tenders with roasted/raw veggies with healthy quick & easy ranch dip. Do I have to say more? Most kids love chicken tenders, the problem, most of them are deep-fried, an unhealthy fat for even our kids. Instead, serve them these healthy, crispy tenders along with raw or roasted veggies.
4. Quesadillas with veggies and guacamole. Warm a whole wheat tortilla, add black beans or lean ground beef or chicken (make sure at least 90/10) a little cheese and add second tortilla, flip to warm on other side. I found that these are good warm or cold, so no need to heat them up if you can't. Serve with an individual pack of guacamole, hummus or ranch dip and veggie sticks (bell pepper, celery, carrots, cucumber, jicama).
5. Turkey wraps with cheese, spinach, avocado and tomatoes. Take 1 slice of turkey, place in middle 1/2 slice cheese, a little spinach, sliced avocado and sliced roma tomatoes with the seeds removed. Roll up and enjoy with serving of fruit, snap peas and baby carrots.
I encourage you to empower your kids to start making their own lunches with your assistance. Explain why nutritious foods are good for them, especially on school days where they need more brain power and lasting energy. You'll see how quickly they learn. Bonus, kids are more likely to try new foods and like them when they help make them! When you go to the grocery store, ask your kids what they would like to fuel their brains and bodies and help them pick out a few vegetables and fruits. Then, get those and only what you will need for the week, this way you do not have to worry about them going bad.
Ask your kids for feedback. If you notice that something goes uneaten or when trying something new, ask your kids what they thought about it. Just because it wasn't their favorite, it does not mean you can never make it again. Find out why and make small tweaks to make it more enjoyable the next time. Be patient, new foods take time; on average, it takes at least 15-20 tries before kids (or adults) will start to accept a new food.
Make your lunches the night before mandatory! Mornings are hectic and you'll opt to skip making lunch your lunch and buy something when you are running late. You may not feel like it in the evening when you are tired, but trust me, you will thank me the next day! I hope you enjoy trying these lunch ideas that are fit for the whole family!
*All the foods I suggested I found at my local grocery stores (HEB and Kroger) but you can also shop online at Thrive Market or Amazon.
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